Q & A with AIA Houston President Perry Seeberger

Feb. 17, 2012

As the 2012 president of the American Institute of Architects’ Houston chapter, Perry Seeberger leads a group that strives to accomplish things in the community that no one firm could do alone.

For example, the group participated in a project to outfit the George R. Brown Convention Center with solar panels and a green roof. This year’s Houston 20/20 Visions: Ten Years to Clarity display showcases Houstonians’ ideas for bettering the city. And its Celebrate Architecture Gala will raise funds for the Houston Parks Board to reforest local parks.

Seeberger was born in Houston’s St. Joseph Hospital. He graduated from the University of Houston and established Seeberger Architecture in 1983 to handle a variety of projects locally and across the country.

Seeberger recently spoke with the Chronicle about local architecture. Edited excerpts follow.

Q: What types of building and construction projects are seeing the most growth?

A: The private sector seems to be growing much more than the public sector. We’re seeing projects on the industrial businesses, especially in the oil and gas services, who are building new buildings and at least planning projects now.

Q: What is driving that?

A: The price of oil. A little bit of it was the anticipation of the Keystone XL pipeline. There is also a deposit of shale in southwest Texas that is causing growth in the oil field services.

Q: Did you see architecture firms retool their businesses after the recession hit?

A: Yes. A lot of firms laid off at least 20 percent of their staff. Others reduced their working hours to four days a week. And some firms are still lagging behind. A lot of the layoffs had to do in the areas of public architecture, which would be libraries and fire stations and public schools.

Q: Are architects hiring?

A: Some are. I’m seeing a little improvement. But there are quite a bit of architectural people looking for work.

Q: What’s your favorite building?

A: In the world? I’d have to say the 160-story Burj Khalifa building in Dubai. In Houston, the new BG Group Place, 811 Main. From the exterior, it’s just a sparkling jewel. It’s nice to have some new construction in downtown Houston. Hines has an office in the building. Just recently, I got to personally meet Gerald Hines.

Q: How did he influence you?

A: Gerald Hines has developed many buildings in Houston and around the world and has always strived for quality architecture. He brought Philip Johnson to the city. The College of Architecture at the University of Houston, of which I’m an alumnus, is named for him.

Q: What impact do all of the energy-efficient projects have on the city?

A: The city of Houston, especially on commercial projects, requires white roofs to reflect heat away from the building. When you fly over Houston, you’ll start to see more white roofs. Overall, less energy consumption for commercial projects is not only good for the owners and tenants, it’s good for the city. Houston came close to having brownouts last summer.

Q: The Prudential Building came down recently. Do you see any other endangered historic structures?

A: The Astrodome. If the city cannot pull together and find a viable use for it, it’s just going to sit and decay until it’s torn down. It’s good for various reasons to try to rehabilitate buildings if they make sense. It really broke my heart to see the art deco maternity ward of St. Joseph Hospital torn down by a wrecking ball and turned into a meditation garden. In a lot of the great cities, aside from being walkable, there’s great architecture. Houston needs to get out of the mentality that we can just tear anything down at any time, eliminating historical references to our past. The Harris County Courthouse is a good example of preservation of buildings. The city of Houston recently renovated an old abandoned warehouse and turned it into its building permit center. We need to continue. It’s still a battle.

Photo above: Perry Seeberger, AIA, displays plans for Buffalo Bayou Park. The plans are part of the Houston 20/20 Visions: Ten Years to Clarity exhibition downtown in the Architecture Center Houston. Photo credit: Nick De La Torre / 2012 Houston Chronicle